Neil Blumenthal is the co-founder of Warby Parker, an online eyeglass retailer offering boutique-quality prescription eyewear at $95 per pair.* For every pair of glasses sold, Warby Parker donates a pair to someone in need.

*I wish I would have heard of Warby Parker four years ago when I spent over $500 on my glasses.

It was a fantastic talk. Here are my notes from it.

  • What do the products and clothing you buy say about you?
  • How can for-profit companies be catalysts for change?
  • How do you feel after paying for glasses? I feel like I’ve been kicked in the balls.
  • About providing beautiful eyewear for a much lower cost.
  • My passions shifted around a lot. Focused in on deadly conflict and wars. Thought to stop us from killing us then we could focus in on other stuff. Studied in Amsterdam, came back to NYC and wrote papers, but I wasn’t having direct impact on the beneficiaries. Started looking for other opportunities.
  • Met eye doctor with idea for women to sell eye glasses in their communities. Wanted to equip them. If you don’t have glasses, you can’t work or study.
  • On a whim, went to El Salvador to be part of a beta program.
  • Power of a pair of glasses can improve productivity 35% with someone.
  • No matter your socio-economic class, fashion and style matter. People would rather be blind than ridiculed. Good hearts and intentions lead to unintended consequences with charity sometimes.
  • How do we want to be treated? We want to give people dignity. Ability to say yes or no to a pair of glasses.
  • We figured out a fair market price in each country. India it was $2, Central America it was $4-8.
  • Not a temporary bandaid.
  • How do we create systemic change.
  • There are a billion people on earth that need eye glasses. Not a charitable organizaion in the world to serve that.
  • Pride and immediacy people feel when they see themselves with new pair of good glasses.
  • Exotica owns the market when it comes to glasses. It’s vertically integrated. Marking up 10x to 25x in everything.
  • We thought we could bypass those licensing companies, and the shops, for $95. We could transfer billions of dollars from companies to people. Don’t just think about shareholders, think about your customers. Build a 100 year relationship with them, not a 15 minute relationship.
  • We want amazing customer service.
  • We want to think about our employees. Creating an environment which will cause them to flourish. Open office to provide visibility to what you are doing.
  • Billion people on Earth, so for every pair you buy you provide someone else with a pair of glasses.
  • Can eyewear help with global issues? Launching a pink frame for breast cancer. Launching sunglasses to help invisible children.
  • How can you treat people the way you want to be treated? The question was, will people buy glasses online? Well Zappos does that with shoes, but that doesn’t work for us. So we bought facial recognition trial software. That still didn’t work as effectively as we liked. So, we created a home trial program. Five glasses for five days. So you can test it out and then send them back.
  • Two guidelines for founders. 1. Work our asses off. 2. Remain friends. Easier said than done. Often we hear about founding friends that become enemies. We have monthly 360 feedback situations.
  • Started company in school.
  • Started out and quickly had a waitlist of 20,000. Great, but it was s—– on the customer service side. First hire was to work only 10 hours a day, and their first week ended up working 90 hours.
  • We want to give reason for people to talk to us. Introduce the brand through credible sources. Try and create personal connections.
  • Still have to buy online.
  • Want people to be stakeholder centric instead of shareholder centric.
  • Buying glasses is inherently social.
  • How do you maintain zen amidst the chaos?
  • Some of the best businesses come from frustrations and pain points.
  • Glasses been around 700 years, why are there a billion people with out them and they cost as much as an iPhone.
  • Our glasses are made in Italy, China and US. We go and visit factories in China regularly. The company we work with there do seem to care about their employees. Look at them and see if their happy. They are taking care of the employees. Can’t be holistically good if you’re not looking at your entire chain.
  • No idea is new. It’s all about execution.
  • What other ways can we have charitable component if you don’t have product?
  • Encourage people to get involved, educate why we do what we do.
  • The optical industry hates us. They mock the Jack Kerouac inspired name. They talk about how they support little leagues. So do we.
  • When Napster came on the scene, people were buying more music those first few months. Still, how did music industry react? They shut it down, and now Apple owns it.

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